Budgeting 201

Easy Dinner Ideas on a Budget

May 14, 2024

Economic factors and time constraints have led to a growing interest in budget-friendly recipes that taste good and are easy to prepare. Meal prep can be tough for both those cooking for one as well as for a family. It involves balancing affordability and taste. Oftentimes it just comes down to what you have in the refrigerator and pantry even though you crave something completely different.

Planning ahead with low-cost and easy dinner ideas is not only practical but also essential for maintaining a healthy and balanced diet without overspending. By incorporating simple and cost-effective ingredients, it really is possible to cook nutritious meals – it just takes some planning. Read on for more tips and recipes!

Side note: we have something else for you to read if you’re looking to learn more about eating out on a budget.

Stock Up for Quick Dinner Ideas

Make sure you’re stocked up on your favorite ingredients so you’re able to cook the meal you want without needing to run to the grocery store. Ingredients like canned tomato paste, canned beans, dried herbs, and spices can all add depth and flavor to dishes. Make sure to have grains on hand, such as brown or white rice, quinoa, pasta, and noodles for a versatile meal base. Don’t forget about sauces! You never know when you’ll need soy sauce, BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, teriyaki sauce, alfredo, or marinara sauce.

Tips to Save on Grocery Shopping

Planning meals ahead and creating a shopping list can help avoid impulse purchases and save money on groceries. Choosing store brands over name brands is another cost-saving strategy without necessarily compromising on quality. Use coupons and cashback apps to increase savings on grocery purchases, allowing you to stick to your budget while still enjoying your meals. There are also mobile apps that help with budgeting. You may be focusing on good health. If so, we’ve put together some ideas on how to eat healthy on a budget.

Easy Recipe #1: Hearty Vegetable Stir-Fry

This dish can be made using a variety of inexpensive vegetables such as bell peppers, broccoli, and carrots, along with flavorful sauces consisting of soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. By serving it over a bed of affordable brown rice, you have a wholesome and affordable meal that is quick to prepare and full of flavor.


  • One bag of frozen vegetables. Choose a mix with the veggies that you like. Common options include red bell pepper, peas, carrots, and broccoli.
  • One bag of Asian stir fry vegetables. This mix may include water chestnuts, baby corn, bamboo shoots, and shitake mushrooms among others.
  • Stir fry sauce can be purchased pre-made, but to save money you can make your own with a cup of broth and some flour or cornstarch for thickening. Then add soy sauce, garlic powder, and ginger powder to taste.
  • Cooked grain of choice such as rice or noodles.


  • First, make your sauce by mixing the broth, thickener, soy sauce, garlic powder, and ginger powder in a bowl. Mix until all the ingredients dissolve into the broth.
  • A wok is preferred but a frying pan works fine. Add one or two teaspoons of olive oil, or whatever oil you prefer, and warm the oil for 30 - 60 seconds. Add your vegetables to thaw/warm them.
  • Add your sauce and bring it all to a boil. The sauce will thicken in 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Top your stir-fry over a bed of rice or noodles.

Easy Recipe #2: Skillet Lasagna

This is a quick and easy version of traditional lasagna. It’s prepared on the stovetop in a skillet or a large frying pan instead of in the oven with a baking dish. It's a popular choice for busy weeknights because it requires less time and cleanup compared to classic lasagna recipes. It’s a versatile dish, so feel free to customize it with your favorite ingredients like mushrooms, spinach, or bell peppers. It can be a delicious and comforting meal that's perfect for satisfying your lasagna cravings in a fraction of the time.


  • Olive oil
  • Ground beef, ground turkey, or chopped-up Italian sausage
  • Lasagna noodles (broken into pieces)
  • Marinara sauce (store-bought or homemade)
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese (shredded)
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Garlic, onions, and other seasonings as desired


  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onions and minced garlic. Sauté until softened.
  • Add your protein to the skillet, breaking it up with a spatula, and cook until browned. Drain excess fat if needed.
  • Pour marinara sauce into the skillet with the cooked meat and stir. Let it simmer for a few minutes.
  • Stir in broken lasagna noodles into the skillet. Make sure the noodles are submerged in the sauce to soak up the flavor and be cooked thoroughly.
  • Cover the skillet and let the noodles cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until they are tender, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
  • Once the noodles are cooked, dollop spoonfuls of ricotta cheese over the top of the skillet.
  • Sprinkle shredded mozzarella cheese and grated Parmesan cheese over the ricotta.
  • Cover the skillet again and let it cook for a few more minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Easy Recipe #3: White Bean Tuna Salad

White bean tuna salad is a nutritious (high in fiber) and satisfying dish that combines canned tuna, white beans, and various fresh ingredients to create a flavorful salad or sandwich filling. We made sure to include this healthy dinner idea since it's a popular choice for a quick and easy meal or snack.


  • Canned tuna - drained
  • White beans (such as cannellini beans or navy beans) - drained and rinsed
  • Red onion - finely diced
  • Celery - finely chopped
  • Red bell pepper - diced (optional)
  • Fresh parsley - chopped
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil or mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Break, tortilla, or pita (if making a sandwich)


  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the drained tuna, white beans, diced red onion, chopped celery, diced red bell pepper (optional), and chopped parsley to the bowl.
  • Drizzle olive oil or scoop mayonnaise, and add lemon juice over the ingredients in the bowl.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Mix all the ingredients together.
  • Add salad to bread if making a sandwich.

Dinner Ideas FAQs

What is the cheapest meal you can make?

There are many examples to choose from and they really depend on various factors, but one of the cheapest meals that you can make is rice and beans. This combo is not only simple and nutritious but also affordable. Another example is pasta with tomato sauce. You can make your own sauce or use ready-made sauce from the grocery store to save time.

How to cook on a tight budget?

To cook while on a tight budget, you should plan out your meals and shopping lists. Buying in bulk can save money and can make sense when shopping for food staples like rice, pasta, and beans. You can save money by avoiding fresh meat and fish and opting for inexpensive proteins like eggs and canned tuna. A satisfying way to save money when cooking is to use vegetables and fruits that you’ve grown yourself in a garden.

What is the most popular dinner meal?

This depends on location and culture, but one of the most popular dinner meals in the United States is grilled or roasted chicken served with a side of mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. This classic dish is comforting, satisfying, and enjoyed by people of all ages. It’s also easy to customize with different seasonings, sauces, and vegetable choices.

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